The tower was ahead of a me–a medieval round tower, the sign next to it said, built of gray stone. Coming up the rather rocky path and the higgledy-piggledy headstones ahead of us, the tower was the tallest structure around, the first of these medieval ruins my cousin Liz and I could see.
The round tower was built between 900 and 1100, the sign said. 900 to 1100. My country was founded in 1776. We don’t have manmade structures from the years 900 to 1100. This tower was older than my country.
I reached out a hand to touch the tower’s rough stone, placed my palm flat on it. I’m a history nerd and though I didn’t know the history of this site we were visiting or of the tower, I knew it was likely to be the oldest thing I’d ever get to touch.
“Watch,” Liz said. “You touched it. Now it’s going to fall down.”
I side-eyed her. The snark is strong with this cousin.
On our second day in Ireland, our tour group took a day trip to Glendalough in County Wicklow, about an hour south of Dublin. Glendalough is in a beautiful valley, but we were there to explore the ruins of a medieval monastery.
St. Kevin founded the monastery in the 6th century. But I only found this out after we’d visited, so as Liz and I were walking down a path where there were a lot of tall, shady trees and rock outcroppings along the side, I asked her, “So…St. Kevin. What’d he’d do?”
“I don’t know,” Liz replied.
“But you’re the Catholic one!”
Then we came to the first portion of ruins. They were not the only ruins we’d see in Ireland–when we drove to western Ireland the next day and as we toured the Ring of Kerry the day after that, we would see old stone cottage ruins on roadsides, crumbling churches, and even some lone castle towers on hills–but these ruins were the ones we were able to explore.
There are several churches and other buildings near the round tower, one of which was only a foundation. We stepped into the ruins of a cathedral, which stopped being used in 1214.
1214. It hasn’t been used since 1214. That’s the year before Magna Carta.
We noticed a lot of gravestones, both in the cathedral and fanned out among the ruins. Liz and I both like cemeteries, so we were trying to read the very faded stones and reading the ones we were able to make out. There were headstones from the 18th and 19th centuries straight through to the late twentieth century.
We then walked toward one of the lakes nearby via the boardwalk. There seemed to be a fair number of people walking their dogs and hiking and strolling. Once we could see the lake, Liz and I found a bench and we sat there for a while, taking in our surroundings: the trees and hills and sunshine and grass and the lake. And we chatted as we tend to do.
Sitting there, I guess I could understand why St. Kevin–whoever he was–founded his monastic settlement in that valley. There was a natural, peaceful atmosphere about the place, so different from the vibe of Dublin only an hour away. It was the kind of place that made me think of poetry–not any specific poem, because I can’t remember poetry–but I guess the idea of poetry?
Anyway. I nominate the monastic ruins of Glendalough as the most peaceful ruins–and possibly the most peaceful place–I encountered while in Ireland.